Monday, December 23, 2013

Clearinghouse Post #2: Moving Beyond the Terms "Old-school" and "Renaissance"

As I near my 500th post in the next week or so, and in an effort to get rid of a few draft posts that will give me an inaccurate count of published posts (which I'd rather not count in that 500), I'm running a quick series of blog posts as attempt to "clean house." These posts may not be fully formed, or even make total sense, but did not want to delete/dismiss them entirely.

Moving Beyond the Terms "Old-school" and "Renaissance"

Honestly, this post has been languishing unwritten in my post queue for quite some time. But a post from a couple of days ago by Tim Snider at Savage Afterworld coincides nicely with my "clearinghouse" efforts.

Having been in the business of marketing and branding for almost 25 years, the duty often falls on me to "think beyond" on behalf of both the client and the consumer. That is, I have to attempt to think the way now that others will think in the future. Please don't think I fancy myself some sort of seer or prophet. I'm just a guy who always looks ahead to see where the road his clients are traveling will take them.

Now, I could get into a diatribe here about how anything retro, old-school, or nostalgic has to appeal to a younger audience in a different way for it to survive. I could also talk about how the word renaissance means "rebirth" and what this older style of role-playing needs in order to survive beyond us old fogies is actually a "new birth" (as opposed to a re-hash). Or I could get right to my thoughts on some new or altered terms for what it is we love about the versions and types of games we play.

While I like the term Original Style Role-playing, it doesn't solve my deeper issues with the OSR terminology. I think I've only seen "original style role-playing" used once or twice (e.g., in a review of the recent PDF release of Moldvay Red). I also like the term Proto Style Role-playing. The problem with both of these, however, is that they still imply "old" vs. "new."

So a side story about the name New Big Dragon. It actually began as the name for the design/advertising/branding company I co-founded in 2000 (the year of the dragon). I took a queue for the name from a restaurant in Dallas called New Big Wong (in fact, I used to get phone calls for orders because information would give out our phone number on accident). The intention for New Big Dragon was that it not sound like an ad agency, and that it implied more of a film production or entertainment company (which is obviously where I sort of find myself using it now). I like that the name included the word "New"... because it will always sound new to me, no matter how old it becomes. I've been using this name now for almost 14 years!!! And I still love it as much as the day I thought it up. Yes, I digress, but in an effort to make my point. So back to topic-

I'm about to tell you the same thing I tell clients when it's time to change their tagline, logo, or even name... If you want to find that new and better thing, there can be no sacred cows! So what does that mean for us? I believe the thing we need to be ready to accept as a movement is that we should not be attempting to redefine the meaning of OSR or the words those letters stand for. Instead, we should be attempting to find a new (additional?) term that supercedes the term OSR (which doesn't necessarily have to get lost or thrown away, but simply added to).

I'll tell you a word that I like. I like the word "roots" (like "roots music"). I like that the term "roots roleplaying" affords the OSR RPG genre a mystique akin to musicians that fall into this category from old to new, like The Band and Wilco, respectively. I like that it circumvents the things I don't like about OSR; e.g., OSR implies I'm a nostalgic old fart (which I am); more importantly, it reinforces that stereotype with younger players. I also like that the term "roots roleplaying" doesn't immediately imply "revisiting an old system" or "cloning an old ruleset." I like that it feels pluralist, and includes everything from Traveller to Marvel Super Heroes to D&D (of course), and even RPG style "board" games like Citadel of Blood. I also like that it implies an approach to role-playing, rather than simply a style of rules (you know, everything Matt Finch wrote about in his Quick Primer for Old School Gaming).

So there you go. That's my ¢2... right now I like the term "roots roleplaying."

But I could wake up tomorrow and hate it.


  1. Roots role-playing does have a nice ring to it. I also like adventure games. The latter isn't as catchy, but I like the idea of adventure games, or adventure gaming.

    1. While I like the thoughts, my fear with "adventure games" or "adventure gaming" is that it misses on a couple of major points I'm trying to hit... 1) it doesn't explicitly talk about the old/proto/early form of the approach to RPGs, and 2) it could imply computer gaming in some form, or even LARPing (which the old/proto reference would clear up since, to me, the idea of LARPing is very late 80s/early 90s.

  2. The whole point of the OSR is that we're not trying to find that new and better thing.

    1. Understood and agreed. Really, the "thing" I was looking for here was really not so much "new", but better and more inclusive. My intention was not to replace the term OSR, but to find a "larger" thing that the OSR would be a part of---a new and better term that would have a broadened appeal to those who may not be familiar with the concepts of early RPGs. Again, I'll reference Matt's "Quick Primer" - why does this approach (e.g., rulings not rolls) have to be the "OLD" way of doing something? "Old" implies dated. Why can't it be the "TRADITIONAL" way of doing something (because traditional implies that it's been done this way for a long time but is STILL a good way of doing something). The idea was to be careful of continuing to use "OLD" because this way of gaming will die with the old guard. The goal is to start helping younger/newer players re-think their approach to gaming (and get away from the idea that invincible badass supra-massive four armed half-elf zombies are better a approach to gaming than taking a normal halfling and hoping he survives the first doorway into the dungeon). Think about it this way... which would you prefer... an old three-layer cake? or a traditional three-layer cake?